Class of 2006 more bountiful than ’04

AHEAD of the Connacht U-21 final against Sligo we cast our mind back to the All-Ireland winning U-21 side of 2006 and examined just how well that team had progressed three years on.

Our findings showed that that particular team is going on to become the basis of our senior side. Thirteen of the starting fifteen that day have played senior football for Mayo. Eleven are currently in the Mayo squad (if we include Keith Higgins, due back from Oz shortly) so the rate of progression has been very healthy indeed.

THE THREE WISE MEN: Under 21 management team of 2004 John Maughan, Liam McHale and George Golden.

THE THREE WISE MEN: Under 21 management team of 2004 John Maughan, Liam McHale and George Golden.

How about the Under 21s from two years previous? In 2004 the team managed by John Maughan, who was, of course, also the senior manager of Mayo at the time, took on Armagh in the final merely six days after our seniors were stuffed by Kerry in the All-Ireland final (the under 21 competition, bizarrely when you look back, ran concurrent to the senior championship in those days).

We very nearly snuck victory right at the death but the day would end with yet another Mayo failure on All-Ireland final day. It would bring to unlucky thirteen the number of senior, U-21 and Minor finals we had failed to win since our Minor triumph of 1985. We would record a fourteenth – the 2005 minor defeat to Down – before the class of 2006 would halt a depressing cycle.

A match report for that final defeat to Armagh is available here courtesy of The Sunday Times’ Michael Foley and a look at the team that played shows a lot of names who can unfortunately be labelled ‘blasts from the past’ in terms of inter-county careers with Mayo.

Only five of those who started or came on are currently in the Mayo senior side with three of those actually still around when Mayo won the competition in 2006. As an aside the most established senior player now from the 2004 U-21 panel didn’t even play in the final – one David Clarke. So the return outside of those is paltry.

Now that’s not to say that everyone could have or should have ‘made it’. Some underage teams are stronger than their results might suggest and vice versa. For instance the 2006 team wasn’t highly rated in advance of that year’s competition but in retrospect, it looks a serious line-up.

And perhaps the actual winning of the title in 2006 boosted that squad of players considerably – the effects of winning are hard to overstate.

It is hard not to come to the conclusion however that the 2006 crop were blessed with better footballers than 2004.

A look back through the years is always an interesting and worthwhile exercise and like with the 2006 team, we’ll go through the 2004 team player by player, rate their progress from 1-5 and ask: where are they now?

Goalkeeper: Fintan Ruddy (Cill Chomain Gaels). Much like Carlo Cudicini at Chelsea to the David Clarke’s Petr Cech, Fintan Ruddy had to make do with being a very good goalkeeper for Mayo at the same time as a excellent one was on the scene in Clarke.

fintan-ruddy

The two were pitting their wits as minor goalkeepers in 2000 and ’01 and for many more years at senior level after successive injuries to Clarke gave Ruddy opportunnities which he, ah, grabbbed with both hands. Ruddy made his championship debut in the 2003 Connacht final in place of Peter Burke (whose presence made matters even more difficult for Ruddy). He also played in the 2004 Connacht final before losing his place to Burke for the All-Ireland series.

The affable Glenamoy man held off Clarke for the 2004 U-21 campaign with solid displays allied to booming kick-outs (the picture on the right is after he won the  Kick Fada in 2006) but he last played senior for Mayo in the 2006 league. Out of favour with John O’Mahony, the sub-‘keeper spot went to Shane Nallen in 2008, with Kenneth O’Malley’s arrival in 07 pushing Ruddy back. Currently in Australia.

Progress rating: 3

Right-corner back: Dermot Geraghty (Shrule/Glencorrib). Like Ruddy, Geraghty is one who has not had a fair crack at senior level. Often harshly criticised for being too small, there have been fewer better man-markers in the county than the Shrule dynamo.

dermot-geraghty

A player who seems to have the number of Galway’s Michael Meehan (see right), Geraghty made his senior debut in the league clash against Fermanagh  in February 2004 and championship debut against New York later the same year.

He was the sacrificial lamb in the ’04 senior All-Ireland final, taken off at half-time when he was far from the root of the problem (Colm Cooper only really began to motor AFTER Geraghty was taken off him). In 2006 he started every championship game for Mayo under Mickey Moran. The extent of his Mayo involvement since? Two FBD games at wing-back in early 2008. Clearly not rated by John O’Mahony. Is Geraghty better than some of those expected to play corner-back on the current Mayo panel? Of course he is. Still playing good football with Shrule.

Progress rating: 3

Full-back: Pat Navin (Claremorris). Navin was mentioned by plenty of observers as the man to fill the problematic full-back position for Mayo at senior level but it never quite worked out.

pat-navin

Injury has really hampered his progress so it is hard to say whether he was good enough to make the breakthrough but Navin is strong, pacey and a decent reader of the game so its a shame we didn’t get to see more of him. Has been a solid player for Claremorris at club level on their run to the county senior semi-final in 2008.

Progress rating: 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Left-corner back: Trevor Howley (Knockmore). Just in his first year out of minor, Howley’s robush style endeared him to Mayo fans immediately and were it not for various injury problems, he would probably be an established senior starter at this stage.

trevor-howley1

Just back training now after another injury lay-off and some expect him to be able to secure a starting place for championship, such is the regard in which he is held.

In his final year Under 21 Howley would go on to attain a retribution of sorts for 2004 by being a part of the All-Ireland winning Under 21 side of 2006.

Progress rating: 3

 

 

Right-half back: Michael Carey (Belmullet). A player of whom very little was known outside of Erris prior to 2004, Carey burst onto the U-21 scene in 2004 and justified John Maughan’s faith in him with a series of fine performances.

michael-carey

In the Mayo senior squad on a couple of occasions, Carey also impressed with the Mayo juniors after 2004 along with consistently excellent displays for his club. Was invited in by John O’Mahony in 2008 prior to leaving Ireland for Australia and is now playing Aussie Rules at amateur level.

Progress rating: 2

 

 

Centre-half back: Liam O’Malley (Burrishoole). O’Malley is a player who has been very involved with the senior team without having quite been a central man. Made his league debut in the opening round of the 2004 league against Fermanagh and he started the first three games that year.

liam-omalley

Championship debut arrived in 2005 when he came on for Peadar Gardiner in the Connacht final defeat to Galway. His first start came the following year in London when O’Malley was believed to be the solution to Mayo’s full-back worries. He played on the edge of the square for the rest of the successful Connacht championship before losing his spot to David Heaney against Laois in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

He has been a solid performer over the years in the full-back line but hasn’t quite been able to nail down a permanent place. This year decent league performances look like he will have the number 2 jersey for championship.

Progress rating: 4

Left-half back: Stephen Drake (Ballaghaderreen). A stylish and physically strong half-back Drake was a good performer for the Under 21s in 2004, breaking onto the team after not starting earlier in the Connacht championship.

stephen-drake1

He has been unable to forge a place for himself on the senior squad since, not for the want of trying. His fine displays for Ballaghaderreen at full-back en route to the county title last  year earned him a call-up for the FBD League this year but he was let go from the squad in early February.

Progress rating: 2

 

 

Midfield: Barry Moran (Castlebar Mitchels). While the use of Aidan O’Shea at senior level this year is being questioned due to his young age, its worth noting that Barry Moran forged perhaps an even quicker route to the top level.

barry-moran1

After playing midfield as Mayo somehow managed to lose their Connacht Minor semi-final to Galway in June, Moran came into John Maughan’s radar in a challenge game and was quickly brought into the Under 21 team whilst still minor. We can’t recall the last time that happened – prodigious minors like O’Shea and Pearse Hanley didn’t manage it – but we can say it was a rare achievement. Answers to that poser very much welcome.

Moran scored the goal in the final which gave Mayo hope when all seemed lost. Started the senior All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry in August, 2005 but some bad luck and circumstances, particularly with injury, have meant he hasn’t forged the senior career many feel he is capable.

Looked a good bet for full-forward this year but that’s not as certain now thanks to the arrival, ironically, of another ‘boy wonder’ in Aidan O’Shea.

Progress rating: 4

Midfield: Chris Barrett (Lahardane). May share the same name as the Belmullet and Mayo wing-back but that’s where the similarities end.

chris-barrett-lahardane

The Lahardane version is 6’7″ and considerably heavier than the Belmullet flyer and its doubtful we’ll hear too much of Barrett the elder at inter-county level.

Immensely strong, Barrett was given a destructive role by management, one he did his level best to fulfill. However he was limited in a footballing capacity. Still playing club football with Lahardane, and will be hopeful that he can help them push for a Junior title this year.

Progress rating: 1

 

 

Right-half forward: Aidan Kilcoyne (Knockmore). In his first year out of minor, Kilcoyne was a real exciting prospect at the time, something he has yet to quite deliver on. He was part of the senior squad in 04 and was one of the main threats for the U-21 side.

aidan-kilcoyne1

Kicked four points in the final (two frees) and would make his league debut against Dublin the following February. Really announced his arrival with four points from play against Cork in Ballina.

Despite a series of fine displays off the bench in senior championship, ‘Killer’ didn’t make his debut from the start until last year’s Qualifier defeat to Tyrone. Still a player who could make the breakthrough, it’s just not as certain as it once looked.

Progress rating: 3

Centre-half forward: Ronan McNamara (Davitts). Many people will bemoan the loss of Michael Conroy from the Mayo senior set-up but there’s a similar tale of woe for his club colleague McNamara. Injury has robbed the big man his chance to forge a long and successful career with the county.

ronan-mcnamara

A real natural talent, McNamara has size, power, skill, resolve and an ability to kick points with great accuracy from in excess of fifty yards. However a series of knee injuries (notice the bandage in our pic) have held him back and robbed him of whatever pace he had to the extent that its hard to see him ever playing senior for Mayo now, even if he is only 26.

A key man for the U-21s, he has played for Mayo juniors over the past number of years along with impressive displays for the club, despite being only able to operate at about 75% of his capacity due to the dodgy knees.

Progress rating: 2

Left-half forward: Andy Moran (Ballaghaderreen). Of those who saw game time in Breffni Park in 2004, Andy Moran is now the most established senior player but that’s not to say that he’s an established first team player per se.

andy-moran

The 2004 season was his last year Under 21 and he had made his league debut the year before against Down in Newcastle. The New York game in May ’04 was his first championship start – Moran kicked five points from play on the sandy Gaelic Park sod but it wasn’t until 2007 that he cemeted a starting place, at corner-forward.

He was there in 2008 as well but no points from three games was a disappointing return and he  has played most of this year’s NFL at wing-back. Where, or if, he plays in championship ’09 remains to be seen.

Progress rating: 4

 

 

Right-full forward: Alan Costello (Balla). If Alan Costello pockets a Connacht senior medal this year, then it won’t be something for us in Mayo to cheer about.

alan-costello

Now living in Sligo and playing his club football with Coolera/Strandhill, Costello has declared for the Yeats County this year and has impressed in Division 4 with a series of fine displays on the ’40.

A talented and accurate corner-forward for Mayo, he was part of the Mayo senior squad in 2004 and 2005 and on the Mayo Junior team subsequently. He never played senior championship for Mayo, perhaps due to lacking half a yard of pace.

How he gets on this year will be very interesting from a Mayo perspective.

Progress rating: 2

Full-forward: Damien Munnelly (Knockmore). Another member of both senior and Under 21s in 2004, Munnelly has been one of the best club footballers in Mayo over the past number of years.

damien-munnelly

The lack of physicality has probably cost him the breakthrough at senior level, although in a year when we have so much uncertainty over who’ll wear the number 15 jersey in championship, Munnelly’s name is an interesting proposition.

It might surprise people to hear that Munnelly has actually played championship for Mayo, if only for five minutes. He came on for James Gill in the All-Ireland semi-final replay in 2004, and with Mayo having freetaking troubles, Munnelly’s deadly accuracy from dead balls and play is telling.

Progress rating: 2

Left-full forward: Michael Conroy (Davitts). In his first year out of minor, Conroy joined Kilcoyne and Howley as three players who went straight from the minor team into the Under 21.

michael-conroy1

A real talent, Conroy had made his senior championship debut six days earlier on no less an occasion than the All-Ireland senior final where he scored 1-1 after coming on at half-time.

However by the time Conroy picked up his All-Ireland medal in 2006, his senior career was starting to slide. He did start against Dublin in the memorable All-Ireland semi-final defeat in August, 2006 but his last start for Mayo would be in the ’07 league final against Donegal.

Not part of the county set-up now, Conroy is definitely one who got away. Still playing good club football with Davitts.

Progress rating: 2

Subs

Pat Casey (The Neale).

Casey was a player who impressed the Mayo manager Mickey Moran in the trials he arranged in late 2005, Casey managed to forge a place at corner-forward during the 06 NFL but didn’t make the championship squad.

Hasn’t played senior since but has been a regular for the Mayo juniors and is a hugely important player for his club.

Progress rating: 2

Paul Lydon (Kiltimagh). A tight and tigerish corner-back, Lydon played minor in 2001 and progressed to the Under 21s three years later. Hasn’t featured at senior level for the county but has been a reliable player for Kiltimagh, along with his four brothers.

Progress rating: 1

Paul Doherty (Kilmaine). A talented underage player, Doherty was unlucky not to make the starting team for Mayo. A hard-working wing-forward also capable of taking scoring chances, Doherty is not one to completely write off for Mayo just yet.

Played a huge role in getting his club Kilmaine to the county Intermediate final last year.

Progress rating: 2

John Prenty (Ballyhaunis). A talented inside forward, Prenty probably suffered from being a bit on the physically light side for senior football. Played league football in 2005 but hasn’t featured at senior level since.

Progress rating: 2

Neil Lydon (Castlebar Mitchels). Lydon was unfortunate in being sent into the white heat of the game late on and coughed up costly possession when Mayo were going for the winner. A very intelligent and tricky forward, Lydon has been Mitchels most impressive forward over the past few years. Word is he is flying this year – watch this space.

Progress rating: 2

Other members of the squad that year (with progress ratings) were:

Richie Feeney (Castlebar) 2

Donal McLean (Ballycastle) 1

David Clarke (Ballina) 5

Columba Holleran (Swinford) 1

Eoin Hughes (The Neale) 1

James Kilcullen (Ballaghaderreen) 2

Kevin Costello (Carramore) 1

Barry Kelly (Ballaghaderreen) 2

Grateful thanks to the bould Willie Joe at www.mayogaablog.com for his priceless results archive which helped me confirm and indeed deny some of my suspicions about the exact involvement of the 2004 U-21 crew at senior level with Mayo. Sportsfile is an invaluable resource too for pictures and I was able to source pictures for all of the starting team from that September Saturday.

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